September 23rd, 2012


girl power, Middle Earth-style

It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. "But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Eowyn I am, Eomund's daughter. you stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undeed, I will smite you, if you touch him."

I have my problems with Eowyn like most people do, and like I do with most characters. But this is easily one of the most rousing statements of girl power I've ever come across. Not just the deeds but the "clear voice like the ring of steel" and the way she taps into her heritage the way any son would. Betty Friedan ain't got nothing on her.

putting the ACK! in tenure track

Some of my favorites:

"University of Virginia seeks Professor of English with specialty in “educational” technology for setting up MOOCs. Position will be responsible for attracting national attention with bombastic, unproven claims about the future of education; ideal candidate will be heavily read in David Brooks. Teaching load is ∞."

The City College of New York seeks Assistant Prof to teach whatever is the current fad and then to go quietly when enrollment shifts. Interests should include all the classic literature as well as a firm grounding in current scholarly trends, combined with the flexibility to anticipate the whims of the administration."

The Department of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison seeks an energetic and visionary scholar of Victorian poetry. Tenure evaluations have recently been sped up thanks to our ability to subpoena your email and phone conversations. Promotion decisions have also been made swifter through the elimination of union agitators. The University of Wisconsin-Madison is an Equal Opportunity Employer."

I'm honestly not sure how funny these are to people outside academia, but they made me chuckle!  

The Hunger Games: Get to a Bow

Continuing on with the Hunger Game blogging, I wanted to take a step back from the actual reaping. The story begins the morning before Katniss is chosen to participate in the Games, when she goes hunting to support her family. This is technically illegal, but is one of those laws that they don't really enforce in Twelve.

And Katniss is quite good. She knows which animals are safe to eat and eventually is able to take down animals as well, which she either uses to feed her family or, more often, trades the animals on the black market to get other things her fmaily needs but can't afford. Her dad had died in a mining accident some years before, and for a while her mum was too depressed to work. That means the only real source of income the family has for a while is Katniss's tesserae, the monthly allotment of grain and oil. Eventually her mum starts selling medicinal remedies but it doesn't pay as much as a miner's salary would, and in any case families almost always need both incomes to keep everyone fed, because the salaries are so low. So since she was twelve Katniss has basically been the breadwinner. She's exceptionally good as a shooter.

After the Reaping, Gale points to this skill as her best hope for survival. He urges her to get to a bow, or make one, to use as a weapon against the other tributes.

"Katniss, it's just like hunting. You're the best hunter I know," says Gale.

"It's not just hunting. They're armed. They think," I say.

"So do you. And you've had more practice. Real practice," he says. "You know how to kill."

"Not people," I say.

"How different can it be, really?" says Gale grimly.

The awful thing is that if I can forget they're people, it will be no different at all.

There are two ways of interpreting a lot of these statements. The first is that killing humans involves a set of skills that Katniss simply doesn't have. As Katniss points out, they're armed with weapons every bit as deadly as hers. And more than that, they can think. It is one thing to kill a deer and another to kill a human, without even gettingo into the morality going on here. But I think that Katniss has a deeper point here: that the only way it would really be "no different" is if she didn't realize she was killing other humans.

This is a point that comes up time and again in the later books. [spoilers for book 3]
In Mockingjay,Gale helps design a series of traps to be used against fellow humans that are inspired by his experience hunting animals. In one of my favorite scenes, he likens an attack on a Capitol stronghold to the way you attack a news of wild dogs. And as the books go on, the idea of mutts continually twists this distinction between human and non-human.

It's an interesting point to think about, both in conjunction with animal rights and with the various ways we react to human-against-human violence like war, terrorism, and murder. I can see three basic positions here:

1. It's always wrong to kill things unless it's necessary for your survival. It's necessary to kill animals to survive, so that's okay for Katniss. In the arena, it's also okay to kill the other tributes - because this is just as necessary to your survival. 

2. We should be more reluctant to kill humans than non-human animals for practical reasons - they're harder or more dangerous to kill, this creates more suffering, etc. So you need a better reason to kill humans than other animals, but it's still sometimes justified. 

3. There's something implicitly wrong about killing humans. It's not just a matter of their being more of the same kind of consequences. When you kill a human there's something dehumanizin about this. Sometimes it's necessary for the greater good, perhaps. But still something very wrong, something worth mourning over.
Obviously there are huge implications to this difference here. So I find myself wondering: Which is the best way to approach violence done to humans? Is Gale right to say it's just like killing an animal?
[spoilers for book three]
What if this wasn't her only way to survive, like the later choice Gale faces between his own slavery and that of all the other District residents, or some deaths in a way? Even if you think the war is a good thing, is he a bit too cavalier here?

(My own opinion is yes on that last question. No matter what you think about the way, it's wrong not to think something is lost when we have to be violent. But then I'm a pragmatist.)